Public or Private Actors: Does it Change Anything to the Europeanization of Welfare? A Comparison across Wallonia Region (BE), Rhône-Alpes (FR), and Lombardy(IT)

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Josua Gräbener, Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Grenoble, France
      • Sbaraglia Fanny, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium


    The European Social Fund (ESF) is used everyday to support projects in all european regions. ESF-funded projects need to fit both with the ESF political objectives and with its strong administrative requirements. Therefore, implementing ESF objectives always requires to involve a vast array of social actors: national and subnational, public and private, unions and experts… If such partnerships are strongly encouraged at the EU level, putting them into practice on the spot is anything but easy: it favours a vast array of local interpretations of ESF objectives, which in turn makes it difficult to identify common trends of Welfare Europeanization across Member States and regions. Furthermore, it remains difficult to isolate the impact of Europe within the multiplicity of pressures faced by Welfare actors. While many scholars have contributed to these understanding, a theoretical dialogue is still much needed to combine the micro, meso and macro perspectives, but also to overcome deep epistemological controversies. While most scholars agree that ESF is a vector of Europeanization, many of them have also stressed the ability of domestic actors to adapt the tools and even to resist or avoid the EU objectives. The common understanding of Welfare europeanization rarely goes beyond that point. On the one hand, a vast array of Anglo-Saxon authors have long privileged assumptions of goodness of fit (as Börzel & Risse, 2000), and focused on the institutional determinants of varieties of europeanization. These authors were frequently in line with the varieties of capitalism and the welfare regimes literature. On the other hand, a specific attention has been given, particularly in France, to its domestic socio-political effects (as Pasquier & Weisbein, 2010). Last but not least, the “usages of Europe” approach allows to consider the strategic behavior of domestic actors facing EU pressures on Welfare systems (Jacquot & Woll, 2003). These literatures are not often used together, because the actors are not considered with the same perspective. Put in a nutshell, institutionalists focus on path dependencies while constructivists underline the individual and organizations choice capacity. Ironically, such epistemological tensions are not contradictory with an implicit consensus on the fact that private and public actors behave differently. Hence, it is little surprise that vast bibliographies exist on either side, while drawing a global picture remains a difficult and time-consuming exercise. We suggest to contribute to this dialogue effort by getting down to the ground floor and observing in different contexts how a similar EU instrument, the ESF, is effectively used by domestic actors and affects the Welfare systems. The first question addressed is mainly empirical: what are the main differences in the implementation of ESF by Welfare actors in the three regions? A second question concerns the very status of ESF for domestic Welfare actors: under which conditions is it seen as a resource or a constraint for the local sociopolitical games, and is it used so differently across the regions and countries? Vocational training associations, centers of social assistance, public social help centers, and offices of unemployment, business associations….All actors seek to protect themselves and their working environments against external pressures at at least three levels: at a micro level (actors are individuals working into organizations), at a meso level (the already existing relations between actors) and at the macro level (public policies, scopes and criteria of efficiency). Therefore, the third and last question is more general: do public and private actors react differently to the Europeanization of welfare? Such a normative question seems unavoidable to us, since the policies implementation we observe take place in a context of austerity and harsh criticism against public services and more generally traditional Welfare States. Basing ourselves on a cross-national comparison and multilevel analysis, we therefore contribute to this general discussion both empirically and theoretically. Our argument is that the public / private division is not the most relevant one to understand the differential trends of Welfare Europeanization. We investigate the implementation of the 2007 – 2013 ESF Employment Program in three different regions: Wallonia (Belgium), Rhône-Alpes (France) and Lombardy (Italy). These regions are characterized by different levels of decentralization, and different types of public-private cooperation. We focus on continuous vocational training and social assistance. Methods include document analysis, participant and direct observations, as well as dozens of in-depth semi-structured interviews mostly with subnational social, administrative and political actors. These materials were collected during our ongoing PhD investigations, along similar questions that can be better faced collectively.